The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri is a church dedicated to Saint Stephen, first martyr of Christianity, located in the historical center of Pisa, in Piazza dei Cavalieri, near to the beautiful Palazzo della Carovana.
The first stone of the church was laid on 17 April 1565 by Cosimo I de’ Medici. The church was built for the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen, founded by the Grand Duke to combat Saracen piracy in the Mediterranean.
Designed by Giorgio Vasari, with the works being supervised by David Fortini, the church was built on the site of the old Church of San Sebastiano alle Fabbriche Maggiori, documented since 1074. The construction was completed in August 1567, and the church was consecrated on December 1569. The bell tower, added between 1570 and 1572, was erected by Giovanni Fancelli based on a design by Vasari.
In the following century, the church was decorated with most of the paintings that are still on display, painted by the greatest Florentine masters of the 17th century. The altar and the nave were designed by Pier Francesco Silvani.
Between 1683 and 1691, the two side bodies were built, used as dressing rooms and warehouses of the knights. In 1859, after the suppression of the Order, the engineer Gaetano Niccoli built two aisles from the side bodies, with the arrangement that can still be seen today.
The facade, in white Carrara marble, was designed by Don Giovanni de’ Medici, stepson of Cosimo I, whose project was preferred to that of Vasari. The facade is characterized by two orders with columns, pilasters, an arch in the middle and a tympanum with the coat of arms of the Medici and the Order of Santo Stefano.
The church has a rectangular plan with a single nave, and four wooden altars. The interior is vast and bright and presents a sumptuous decoration aimed at celebrating the achievements of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen.
In the presbytery stands the precious high altar, made of polychrome marble and gilded bronze by Giovanni Battista Foggini between 1702 and 1709.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri is located about 1.4 kilometers away from the Pisa train station. The closest bus station is Pacinotti 2, about 350 meters away, on the bus Lines 2, 4, 5, 13, 21, 22, LAM Verde and Navetta E.